Monday, November 03, 2008

Just Vote Divided.

Over the last two and one half years this blog has consistently and frequently made the case for divided government. On the eve of the midterm election in 2006, I wrote a post with the same title, summarizing the case for divided government and calling on voters to vote for Democratic Senators and Representatives to break the back of the disastrous One Party Rule under the Republicans. At the time, the election looked close but there was reason for optimism. The Foley scandal was the straw that broke the camel's back and the electorate finally rejected six years of bad governance and rampant corruption.

Divided government is not a cure-all, but the fact is - our divided government state since 2007 has begun to reverse the damage of the 2001-2006 One Party Rule. Six years of abusive single party control is not going to be undone by 20 months of divided government. Yet, as a direct consequence of electing a divided government in 2006, we have a new Secretary of Defense, a new Attorney General, a marginal improvement in both the Patriot Act and FISA vs. the Bush/Cheney versions, a great deal more oversight revealing many of the abuses of the six years of single party control, a revised strategy in Iraq resulting in an improved security situation, and a reduction in the rate of spending growth in 2007. These improvements, though marginal, are not insignificant. It is the nature of divided government that improvements will be incremental and that is exactly what we have seen thus far.

The absurdity of handing all the levers of power to the Democrats as a cure for the abuses we saw as a result of handing all the levers of power to the Republican should be obvious on its face. Particularly when you consider the Democrats will likely have bigger majorities than the Republicans had combined with a "Cheney enhanced" executive office and a partisan 97% toe-the-party-line Democratic voting record president in Obama. Quite possibly this will be the greatest concentration of power in one man and one party in the US federal government in the lifetime of anyone reading this blog. You gotta really have the partisan blinders on to believe that Democrats can be trusted with the “ring of power” just because they are Democrats.

So we face a similar decision in 2008 as we did on 2006, but I am not as optimistic about the outcome. The divided government swing vote is real but small. It can determine the outcome of an election if the election is close, as it was in 2006. Although the Democrats have already conclusively demonstrated that they have the potential to be every bit as corrupt as the Republicans and fully embrace big money politics as aggressively as Republicans, they have not yet had enough time or power to fulfill that corruption potential . Without any effective partisan oversight, we will certainly see Democratic Party corruption come into full flower by 2010.

There are positive signs. In this election cycle we have seen more stories, articles and posts on divided government than ever before. Consideration of divided government vs. one party rule is now part of the conscious voting decision for many voters. This is a solid foundation to build on for the 2010 midterms. But this year, the financial market crisis has swamped all other considerations, and what should have been a close election, is likely a rout. When voters are gripped by fear, whether it is fear of terrorism (2002), fear of gay marriage (Ohio in 2004), or fear of economic collapse (2008), few other considerations will come to the fore. That said, DWSUWF will nevertheless soldier on, and yet again reprise the rationale to Just Vote Divided.

In a nutshell , the rationale for a voting divided is a heuristic based on voting for objectives.

If you believe that the Federal government should be limited in scope, provide for common defense, fight fewer wars, protect and respect individual rights, spend and tax in a fiscally responsible manner, provide effective oversight of elected and appointed representatives, legislate carefully and slowly, pass only laws that are tempered in the fire of partisan debate, and act in a manner that reinforces and not undermine the checks, balances, and separation of powers enshrined in the constitution, Then you should vote for divided government. You should vote for divided government because scholars, political scientists, economists, historians, and constitutional lawyers have documented as historical fact, that a divided government state supports exactly those objectives while one party rule does not. It is that simple.

As a side benefit, if you consider yourself (as I do) among the 12% minority of true centrist, moderate and/or small "l" libertarian leaning independents floating in a vast ocean of partisans, this voting heuristic can serve as a organizing principle to potentially provide our historically impotent voting block some actual political clout.

I've learned that many who express sympathy for the concept in general will still find a "yeah but" but when it comes to a real vote, even when shown the historical evidence that clearly supports the objectives they claim as their own. Understandable. After all, objective historical evidence that proves a clear path to achieving the objective of better governance, cannot hold a candle to the emotional payoff of - you know - voting for someone because they are younger, or older, or male, or female, or the same race, or not the same race, or the same party, or just because it would be way cool to vote for the first African-American President regardless of his inexperience and voting record, or because he gives a speech that sends a shiver up your leg. Whatever. For those voters, I cannot help you. You have your reasons. Good on you. But there is nothing for you in this blog - have a good life, enjoy your One Party Rule while you've got it.

OTOH, if you are looking for a rational objective basis for your vote, welcome aboard.

Over the life of the blog, I have burned a lot of electrons rebutting the arguments against voting for divided government. To save a little time, I thought I'd preemptively post the three top objections to voting for McCain and divided government in 2008.

Objection: The issue of ending the war overrides all other issues - including maintaining a divided government.

I actually agreed with this until early this year. After the midterms, I was advocating for Hagel, (and later Paul) to win the GOP nomination exactly because I felt that ending the war took priority over - well - everything. In fact, in January ‘07, I wrote a post and created a YouTube video entitled “It’s the war, stupid.” where I tried to identify who made the right call and who made the wrong call on the war in 2002. Interestingly, on the Dem side, I created a graphic that showed Obama and Biden as the ones who were on the right side of that decision.

However, events in Iraq have overtaken the campaign and rendered this issue moot. Yes Obama was right and McCain was wrong in 2002. But McCain was right and Obama was wrong on the surge in 2006. It is a wash on the war judgment question. And as a direct consequence of the surge, Maliki and Iraq have stood up and we are going to stand down. A date has been set, and by 2011 we will have a significantly reduced presence in Iraq, regardless of who is president.

Our military leadership wants a draw down in Iraq, because we need to rebuild our forces and reinforce Afghanistan. The majority of Americans want out, because we cannot afford to maintain this level of military presence in Iraq. And now the Iraqi government want us out by the end of 2010, because they want their country back. It is inevitable that we will be mostly out of a combat role in Iraq in this 2010 time frame.

Thanks to Maliki, there is no practical difference on what our military posture will look like in Iraq by the end of 2010 regardless of who is president. In fact, it is very possible that we will be able to draw down faster with McCain as president, as his credibility as a warrior will restrain the objections from the right, while Obama would have to try and steamroll those objections.

Net net. As a voter I get my cake and eat it too. I can vote to limit the concentration of single party power in Washington, and get also get a quicker (or at least equivalent) draw down in Iraq by supporting McCain. It’s all good.

Objection: I am concerned about McCain selecting conservative judges to the Supreme Court, and that consideration overrides all other issues - including maintaining a divided government.

To maintain this view, one must pretend that the large Democratic majority in the Senate does not exist and will have nothing to say about confirming a McCain appointment. It is a simplistic view that completely ignores John McCain's moderate record in the Senate with judicial appointments of both parties. John McCain led the "Gang of 14" bipartisan moderates in the Senate against George Bush,earning him the enmity of his own party to preserve the filibuster in the Senate for the minority Democratic party on judicial picks. He did so at the risk of his presidential ambitions, and for no other reason than because it was the right thing to do for the country. And - oh yeah - to force the GOP's hand on more moderate judicial selections. One wonders where we will find such a strong voice for moderation in the Democratic Party that is willing to buck their own party establishment. I don't see it.

Objection: We don’t need a government divided between Democrats and Republicans, because the Democrats are divided all by themselves.

Amusingly, I heard the same thing from Republicans arguing against divided government in 2006. Only then they were saying that the real problem was the RINO’s in congress who should be counted as Dems. So they were divided all by themselves. Complete nonsense of course.

This is simply a question of definition.

As outlined above, a large part of the appeal of voting for divided government is the large body of historical research and analysis by political scientists and economists showing a compelling correlation between divided government and consequential outcomes that I consider positive. We unequivocally get more of the objectives I seek when the federal government is divided than when it is controlled by a single party. So - it makes sense to vote that way. Hence my obsession and my blog.

Here is the rub - All of this scholarship is based on a specific definition of Divided Government: One party controls the White House and another party has a majority in one or both houses of Congress. Obviously, advocating a voting strategy based on that research will have no validity or foundation if a different definition is used other than the definition on which the research is based. Both Republicans and Democrats will argue (depending on election) that their respective parties are so ideologically mixed, that they constitute a divided government, even if they have secured single party control of the federal government. This argument completely misses the point. It is an attempt to avoid the consequences of a rational argument by changing a politically inconvenient definition.

If one would like to see these objectives advanced, based on this scholarship, then one must use the same definition of divided government on which the scholarship is based. If there is any research showing the consequences on spending growth and federal governance when we have a divided government defined as a mixed cabinet, or an ideologically split single party, then there is something to talk about. I am unaware of any such research. Until I see it, I’ll stick with this definition.

Objection: The Republicans had six years of single party rule and must be punished for their abuse and corruption. We need to give the Democrats a comparable period of One Party Rule to undo the damage done by the Republicans.

This is a prescription for a federal government that is continuously careening from one extreme to another. We are a highly polarized partisan electorate. Yes, we had our left leg of civil liberties amputated below the knee by six years of Republican one party rule. But installing Democrat one party rule is more likely to amputate our right leg of economic freedom than it is to replace the left.

There are not enough centrists or moderates in either party because there are not enough centrists or moderates in the electorate. The only way to get moderation out of our Federal Government is by ensuring that both parties have a seat at the table and a share in power. This is the genius of the founders that enshrined argument and conflict in the Constitution. A concept best summarized by James Madison in Fedarlist #51 when he said "Ambition must be made to counteract ambition..." A concept that is completely undermined by One Party Rule.

That said, I agree that the Republican Party deserves to continue to be punished in 2008 and I am voting for my Democratic representative in Congress - Nancy Pelosi. If by some miracle McCain were to pull this out, I would consider him to be a one term caretaker president, useful only to reign in the Democrats and give us time to figure out whether there is anything left to salvage in the GOP. There is no historical precedent for a successful third party presidential run except in the role of spoiler. However, there is a precedent for a new opposition party successfully displacing an established major party that has disemboweled itself (Lincoln's Republicans replacing the Whigs). Perhaps this will be an opportunity to replace the GOP. Perhaps.

But as it stands now, we are all on board a hell-bound train rocketing down the rails toward One Party Democratic Rule, with Barack Obama sitting in the expanded unitary executive chair designed by Dick Cheney, complemented by increased Democratic majorities in both houses of the legislature and a real possibly of a 60 vote filibuster-proof plurality in the Senate. God help us. The only slim hope that the Democrats will not have time to do as much damage in two years of single party control as it took the Republicans to do in six.

Regardless of the outcome of the election, I dearly hope it is all over for the current incarnation of the Republican Party itself. But I do wonder what Alien-like creature of hell will erupt through the GOP chest cavity as it convulses in its final death throes.

Divided and Balanced.™
Now that is fair.


Anonymous said...

It is done.... Son is celebrating a job well done in pittsburgh, daughter is photographing the rally in chicago, as their parents watch history happen on t.v. tonight. Tomorrow perhaps another website awaits us... till 2010.

Sam said...

I'm a bit confused on your views. You say some terrific things and have a very genuine and unique insight, and you say that you are a small "l" libertarian, as am I, but then you say that you vote opposite party of majority to try to create a divided house and senate as that is when government stays limited. Now, this does make sense, because less legislation can pass, but what about the policies and principles that the candidates are running on? How does that play into this train of thought?

mw said...

I fleshed out the rationale in more detail on a couple of other posts:

Voting by Objective

Divided Government Voting Strategy

To save from digging through them, this is copied from the VBO post and speaks to your specific question:

"Ultimately, I see this voting tactic as highly effective, but short-term and self-limiting. Maintaining divided government has real benefits in terms of governance, and the primary benefit of successfully implementing this voting tactic is to move the country toward the objectives outlined in this post. As a side benefit, it could serve to establish the moderate libertarian center as a self-aware, broadly recognized and organized voting block. Objectively, divided government only slows the growth of the state, with no evidence that it can actually begin to reduce it. One way to describe the situation is that the "Divided Government vote" stands down when the "Moderate/Centrist/Libertarian vote" stands up. Ultimately, if the divided government constituency is co-opted and eroded because Democrats and/or Republicans are wrestling with each other to prove who are the better, more effective moderate/libertarians, and can prove this to a skeptical, rational, empirical moderate/libertarian swing vote ... well then our job here is done."

Thanks for the comment.